Reno City Council members on Wednesday approved an exclusive franchise agreement with Bird, a transportation company that provides pay-as-you-go scooters to the public.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because a similar transportation company came to Reno four years ago. In May 2018, Lime struck a deal with the City of Reno to bring a fleet of pay-as-you-go bikes to downtown Reno.
It didn’t end well.
Lime bikes ended up thrown in the river, parked in inappropriate areas and not ridden to the extent that Lime officials had predicted.
By September 2018, Lime had decided that pedal bikes were not profitable. People weren’t riding the bikes and it was costing the company $10,000 a month to keep them in Reno.
Instead, Lime released their new electric scooters into downtown Reno – without city approval. It was also illegal at the time.
Nevada state law classified electric scooters as motor vehicles and not allowed to be ridden on sidewalks. However, there was nothing stopping people from riding the scooters in the same area as pedestrian routes.
Reno quickly filed a cease and desist letter against Lime to get the scooters removed. They then voted to terminate the agreement in March 2019. Soon after, bikes were piled in a local scrap yard by the dozens.
Similar to Lime, Bird has had its share of waste and accidents.
A report published in JAMA Surgery in January of 2020 found a sharp increase in scooter accidents from 2014 to 2018 resulting in more than 40,000 emergency room visits. In 2018, head injuries accounted for about one third of the emergency room visits.
A cottage industry of injury lawyers representing scooter accident victims has also cropped up in cities where e-scooters have been approved.
Bird presented to the council in December with an exclusive franchise plan but was told to come back when they had addressed several conditions requested by council members, including setting the agreement for three years with termination at any time within 90 days by either party.
Council members also told Bird they would have to meet and get approval from stakeholders, such as the University of Nevada, Reno and downtown business owners, before they could set up parking spaces for the scooters.
Council member Neoma Jardon, whose ward includes the UNR campus and parts of downtown, was skeptical about the scooters.
“Clearly we had issues previously. We don’t need to drag the issues of the prior vendor into this discussion, but we should learn from history and ensure it doesn’t repeat itself,” she said.
She wanted to ensure that if the city had issues with Bird within the 90-day termination period, they could get the scooters out of the area or out of the city as soon as possible and not be slowed down by litigation.
“I just want to make sure that we maintain the authority to control our streets as it relates to the scooters,” Jardon said.
Bird said that if one of the parties terminated the agreement, the scooters could be cleared out of an area within two hours and out of the city possibly within two days.
“We really want to work with you and I will be available day or night,” said Robert Singleton, the government partnerships manager for Bird.
According to Singleton, the scooters have long life spans, are recycled after use and will charge an added fee to riders who do not park the scooters in their designated areas. The scooters also have a speed regulator, only reaching 15 miles per hour at maximum speed and lowering to one mile per hour when ridden on sidewalks.
Singleton also said feedback from stakeholders about the scooters was “remarkably positive.”
Jardon said she wanted proof.
While Bird said they would come back with letters of approval, there was no letter from officials at UNR. There were also no letters of endorsement from the businesses Bird said had provided great feedback.
“You say you’ve received good feedback. I don’t have that feedback in front of me today,” Jardon said.
The motion passed with Jardon in opposition, saying she could not approve without a letter of approval from the university. Though Schieve voted in favor of the contract, she acknowledged Jardon’s caution.
“We probably are going to be pretty critical… I do appreciate the vice mayor for being diligent with that because she was concerned last time and we gave them the benefit of the doubt and it didn’t turn out so well,” Schieve said.
A quarter of the total fleet, 250 scooters, should be released by late April, according to Bird.
Reno Iron Works must revise north Reno site plan
Jill Dobbs, the executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Northern Nevada, filed an appeal of the Reno Planning Commission’s approval for the Reno Iron Works plan to build a manufacturing building near the animal shelter off Spectrum and Dandini boulevards.
The Planning Commission approved the plan was approved with three in favor, two opposed and two absent. The issue came to the city council because Reno Iron Works needed more area for grading cuts on the steep hillside development than they had included in the plan presented to the Planning Commission.
Dobbs said she was also concerned for the animals in the SPCA’s shelter.
“The thought of a semi truck going up and down our road every day is terrifying,” said Nayla Garcia, the SPCA’s outreach and volunteer manager.
Garcia said an uncontrollable noise source near the shelter would be very stressful for the animals living there. She was also concerned that the building site would interfere with the walking trails near the SPCA where volunteers often walk dogs.
The council decided that Reno Iron Works was in violation of grading boundaries and asked them to come back May 11 with a revised plan.